Nigerian President General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) is back in London.
In a terse, 35-word press statement on Monday, spokesman Femi Adesina announced that his principal would be traveling the following day “for a routine medical checkup.”
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“The President meets with Security Chiefs first in the morning, after which he embarks on the journey.”
The announcement appeared just one day after I published “Breaking point thoughts,” a comment on his recent justification of medical tourism. In a statement read for him by Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire, a medical doctor, Buhari had offered the curious excuse that unfriendly medical care workers are responsible for “prominent” Nigerians seeking medical care abroad.
And he suggested that since 2015 when he took office, he has made “laudable, fantastic infrastructure investment,” and that “retraining health care givers” is the only challenge left.
But this is untrue. In the past six years, Buhari has been a dismal failure in infrastructure development, particularly in the medical field, and the only reason he made that statement was to prepare Nigerians for his return to London, a luxury he had been denied by COVID-19.
If anything is clear, it is that Buhari has no respect for Nigerian medical care. What is also now evident is that he has no respect for Nigerians, outside of his own family, as they all routinely obtain their care abroad.
As I explained last week, this is not simply a case of “prominent” Nigerians choosing to purchase health care abroad. There are Nigerians who have always done so, and who can afford to do so.
There is no reason to think that Buhari is one of them; he is merely exploiting and cheating the people who trusted him with leadership. And he is doing it in two ways.
First, he—a man who makes worldwide anti-corruption claims—dedicates their commonwealth to his personal care, without the reciprocity of accounting for the funds as a true anti-corruption champion would do.
Second, he blatantly ignores the responsibility of providing even basic medical care to the citizens he abandons in Nigeria.
It is strange that Buhari can callously declare that he is traveling to London for “routine medical checkup,” knowing that most Nigerians cannot go anywhere for a semblance of the same, and knowing that he is actually going for full medical care.
These Nigerians who are getting cheated by a leader who has perfected the art of forgetting his electoral promises would also have noticed how he tied Tuesday’s escape to the insecurity in the country: “The President meets with Security Chiefs first in the morning…”
The impression being conveyed was that Buhari cares about the insecurity that he has nurtured in his years in office, but the facts speak differently. Like his “anti-corruption” profile, Buhari’s incompetence, policies but most of all outright indifference, have led the relatively peaceful country into the current tension and division bordering on warfare.
These are the reasons why his meetings with security chiefs have become as meaningless as his proclamations of integrity and discipline.
And it is a reminder about why everything has deteriorated in Nigeria: a nation where nobody appears to be in charge, where competence and merit have no currency, and where self-interest leads. Buhari’s answer to his healthcare needs is the Oyinbo man, just as his answer to the education needs of his family is the Oyinbo man. He sees no trust in his own hands and his own heart.
In those hands, governance has disintegrated into a chaotic, cynical, haphazard, and temperamental joke. There is no area of Nigerian national life in which we are blessed with intelligent, public-oriented, confident governance. Not one.
In Buhari’s hands, Nigeria has shriveled into a pathetic, fearful banana republic with no significance, no answers, and no ambition. We lack the ability for original thought or action. Our country has no place on the multilateral or intellectual table.
In Buhari’s hands, wild has become our middle name. We exchange our sovereignty with the Chinese for a few pieces of silver. Even where we have rules, they are changed in the middle of the game. We spend more time buying off blackmailers than on protecting our citizens. The First Lady flees Nigeria and hides in Dubai for months as young schoolgirls cower from kidnappers. We beg and plead for a few sachets of COVID-19 vaccines from countries that should be begging and pleading for them from us.
In Buhari’s hands, “Impunity” is the name of the presidential jet, or ought to be, and “Impossible” the name of the presidential palace, or ought to be. We have lost confidence in ourselves.
Sadly, Buhari does not understand how much of an anachronism he has become, even as he appears to want to feign his way into historical respect. The truth is that respect, like statesmanship, must be earned. To make six trips to London in six years for personal care, spending several months in one while your country languished in distress, is no such way.
And then to take off in 2021, with Nigeria in even worse shape, is unforgivable. The problem is whether Buhari understands how much advertising he is making to the rest of the world.
One might have said that the Nigeria ruler’s conduct reflects his contempt for Nigerians. But I was 30, half a lifetime ago, when I first reported on Buhari. After all these years I feel that he is incapable of the concept of contempt, just as he is incapable of the concept of responsibility. Or of accountability. Or of pride. Or of patriotism.
A national leader abandoning a dangerous situation at home for the pleasures of a personal foreign trip would be a scandal anywhere else. But to do it at public expense, and during the deepest national insecurity nationwide in six decades, without transferring power to the vice-president as determined by the constitution is not only one of the most self-serving and hypocritical courses of action, it is a recipe for disaster.
But at this point, it is almost certain that Buhari does not care, and did not come to serve. Given the great dissonance between his words and his action, it would appear that his quest for the presidency was simply a reaction to the way he was relieved of leadership in 1985, and was surprised to have won in 2015.
The problem is that if you take the oath, its power and privileges come with heavy responsibility. Buhari appears to have misread the book.
At the weekend, as hundreds of Nigerians in and around London protested his presence in that city, Buhari disbursed platitudes on Twitter.
Among them: “We should not allow the antics of a few mischief mongers to fragment the unity and faith that the vast majority of citizens of this country cherish and believe in…As a Government, we will continue to ensure that the weak, the poor and the underprivileged in our midst are not abandoned.”
How on earth does anyone reduce the monumental outrage and danger in Nigeria to “mischief”?
Worse still, his government will “continue” to serve? When and where did it begin, London?
This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.